Quinten Rollins fighting for snaps in Packers' secondary

Michael Cohen
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez (top) and cornerback Quinten Rollins (bottom) upend wide receiver Terrance Williams (83) of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

GREEN BAY — The 5-yard touchdown pass from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to shifty slot man Cole Beasley last Sunday captured both extremes in the conundrum that is Quinten Rollins, cornerback for the Green Bay Packers.

A former second-round pick, Rollins displayed none of the exasperated body language or sideline antics of fellow cornerback Damarious Randall, who flung his arms in the air and pouted after the Chicago Bears scored an easy touchdown in Week 4. Instead, Rollins is lauded by teammates and coaches for his professionalism, his soft-spoken demeanor and the dedication with which he approaches the game, evidenced by his unwavering acceptance of responsibility for Beasley’s touchdown several hours after coach Mike McCarthy pinned it on him during a Thursday news conference.

“He won that play,” Rollins said. “It’s as simple as that. He won that play, and you’ve got to get on down the road. You can’t hang your hat on something that happened in the first or second quarter. I’ve just got to get better on that play. It happens. He won that play, and if it happened again I would have won that play. It happens.”

But for all of Rollins’ positive traits — and on Thursday defensive coordinator Dom Capers called him steady, a hard-worker and someone who prepares the right way — there is an unavoidable deterrent that complicates his reliability on the field. Rollins ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds coming out of Miami (Ohio), and that makes him by far the slowest cornerback on the roster after the Packers released LaDarius Gunter earlier this year. Damarious Randall and undrafted rookie Lenzy Pipkins are next at 4.46 seconds.

By using a second-round pick on Kevin King (6-3, 198, 4.43) and re-signing veteran Davon House (6-0½, 195, 4.41), the Packers revealed an alteration of their prototypical cornerback, with taller and faster athletes preferred to smaller and — theoretically— quicker ones. Rollins fits neither mold. He is caught between a rock and a hard place where intangibles fight speed.

“Through the course of the season guys go through ups and downs, especially in the secondary,” Capers said. “There’s going to be some weeks where things don’t go quite the way you want them to go. You’ve got to come back in and go back to work and put that behind you. I think Quinten has done that. He’s a valuable guy to us because he can play a couple different positions. I think he’s had a couple good days of practice this week.”

Rollins’ playing time through the first five weeks of the season reflects the challenge of finding favorable matchups for him during games, where his pure lack of speed makes the perimeter a daunting task and where tricky slot receivers like Beasley toy with his close-quarter quickness.  

He played 46 snaps in the season opener against the Seahawks following a training camp in which he held the No. 1 cornerback spot early on, outperforming Randall, House and the newcomer King. But from there his reps fell precipitously, from 34 snaps against the Falcons to seven against the Bengals and just one against the Bears. He played 29 snaps in Dallas last weekend after King left the game with a concussion.

In total, Rollins has played just 38 percent of snaps so far this season. A year ago he played 83 percent of snaps through the first four weeks before missing the next three games with injury.

“It’s not really tough,” Rollins said of the decrease in playing time. “I mean, it’s tough in the sense that you want to be out there. But you’ve just got to be able to roll with the good and bad. There’s going to be good days, there’s going to be bad days; there’s going to be good games, there’s going to be bad games. But how do you respond? Do you still come to work every day? How is your preparation? I’m just controlling what I can control really.”

At the moment that means finding ways to contribute in a limited number of snaps, nearly all of which have come in the slot since King took over a starting role. Rollins is also recovering from an ankle injury suffered against the Bears that he describe as “not all the way right” at this point in time.

But Rollins played fairly well against the Cowboys in his longest outing since Sept. 17. He is unafraid to throw his body around in run support or against bigger skill players in space, and a slicing blitz from the right slot cut down star tailback Ezekiel Elliott for a 2-yard loss. He also upended wide receiver Terrance Williams for a 4-yard gain after quickly diagnosing a play-action bootleg and peeling off Beasley in the flat.

“Wherever I’m needed is where I’m going to contribute,” Rollins said. “If they need me to punt the ball, I’m going to contribute there. I don’t know if (I can kick), but if that’s what they need me to do then that’s what I’ll do.”

The only issue with deploying Rollins in the slot is exactly what happened against Beasley in the second quarter: He lacks the quickness to keep pace with the league’s most agile receivers. Beasley juked him with an inside move and celebrated beyond the end zone after an easy score.

“Down there you have to play things inside out,” Capers said. “The guy he’s going against is one of the quickest guys in the league. Really when you’re going against him, the whole goal is don’t let him beat you inside. Make him beat you outside because once he gets inside, that’s a short easy throw over the middle of the field.”

Rollins’ conundrum is not unlike what the Packers experienced with defensive back Micah Hyde, who played the slot during his time in Green Bay. Hyde had every intangible under the sun but lacked the top-end speed to avoid mistakes at corner.

Such is the dilemma Rollins faces. But the Packers are more than pleased with his demeanor.  

“He’s battling through some things,” McCarthy said. “He’s been in and out of games too just from a medical standpoint. I know he gave up the touchdown there, but he actually played really well. After that he had a number of impactful plays.

“He’s a little bit of a product of the cornerback group. We’re not really lining up the same way each and every week, and Quinten, Damarious, I mean they’re playing multiple positions, and that’s a bigger challenge than lining up at the outside corner position each and every week, too. I like his flexibility. He’s done a really good job on special teams, too. You’ve got to take that into account. I love the way he plays.”

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